Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
There's no denying Saints running back Darren Sproles is a PPR monster. The question is, does standard scoring de-claw the beast?
Sproles rushed for 603 yards on 87 carries and caught 86 passes for 710 yards while crossing the goal line 10 total times (2 rushing, 7 receiving, 1 punt return).
You wouldn't expect a running back who tallies so few touches to post RB1 numbers, but that's exactly what he did ... in leagues where he received one fantasy point per catch. His week-to-week output differed dramatically in standard leagues.
What you want from a RB1 on a week-to-week basis is a guaranteed 10-15 points with a strong chance at 20-plus. That's what Ravens running back Ray Rice gave us last season, for example. In 16 games, Rice scored 14-plus points 12 times and exceeded 25 five times in standard scoring leagues. Now, that's not to say anyone expects Sproles to be Rice, it just goes to show you what a RB1 should be.
Based on that criteria, I don't think Sproles can be counted on as a reliable No. 1 back in non-PPR leagues, but he is almost overqualified to be a No. 2 based on what he did last season. The Saints running back was extremely consistent -- he scored 11 or more points in 11 of 16 games in standard scoring leagues -- but he wasn't extraordinary -- he only exceeded 14 points three times with a high of 21.
Sproles consistency would be enough to justify his draft position (fantasyfootballcalculator.com ADP: 3.06, 16th running back taken) if it was guaranteed that he would duplicate his 2011 season, but nothing outside of Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham is a sure thing in the post-Bountygate Saints' landscape.
The NFL has suspended offensive mastermind Sean Payton, a play-calling wizard who is adept at keeping defenses off balance with his creativity, for the entire season. Payton knows how to maximize an unorthodox player's abilities, and there's no guarantee Payton's replacements (interim head coach Joe Vitt will have to serve a six-game suspension of his own, and the team has not yet named an interim to the interim) possess that same inventiveness. Sure, Vitt and other returning Saints assistants may have picked up tips coaching alongside Payton, but it's a different ballgame when you're the guy in charge and the game starts moving quickly.
Sproles also may have to deal with a more even split in the team's running back rotation. Pierre Thomas still will get his 150-175 touches, but we can't assume second-year player Mark Ingram will miss as much time as he did during his rookie year -- Ingram ran the ball 122 times for 474 yards and caught 11 passes in 10 games before turf toe ended his season.
Having sunk two first-rounders into Ingram (New Orleans traded a first-round pick to move up and select Ingram in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft), the Saints are likely to try to get a return on their investment this season. According to Sports Illustrated's Peter King, the team is counting on Ingram to be a "200-touch player" so Thomas doesn't wear down.
A major factor in Sproles' solid production in non-PPR leagues was nose for the end zone, especially in the red zone. Sproles scored six of his seven receiving touchdowns from inside the 20-yard line, including four in the final four games of the season with Ingram out of the lineup. If Ingram stays healthy, Sproles' red zone touches will likely decrease and so to will his touchdowns.
With high-volume backs like Michael Turner, Ahmad Bradshaw, Frank Gore, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Willis McGahee going after Sproles in 12-team standard scoring mock drafts on fantasyfootballcalculator.com, I'd let another owner take a chance that everything will go right and the explosive Sproles will match last season's production.
More often than not, everything goes wrong, so I'd rather have a stake in a player who is a lock to receive the lion's share of backfield touches than the one who has to be used creatively to succeed (provided the heavy-workload guy isn't Shonn Greene).